Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold will hear their names called early in the 2018 NFL Draft after both decided on Wednesday to declare early, and there’s a good chance they’re the first two picks.
These highly touted quarterback prospects are extremely close in their ability, which has led to a fascinating debate regarding these two that will continue over the next few months.
There appears to be a 50/50 split on which quarterback is favored by members of NFL scouting staffs and draft analysts. So let’s compare and contrast Rosen and Darnold.
Rosen has one of the most natural, textbook releases among quarterback prospects I’ve scouted. There’s no wasted motion, and he typically throws the football from a wide, steady base. His delivery is so fundamentally sound it make his fastballs to all portions of the field look effortless.
Darnold’s delivery features an elongated, looping motion. The ball actually points toward the ground as he’s winding up to release it. His rather unorthodox release led to some fumbles in the pocket and, maybe more importantly, passes taking an extra half-second to get to its intended target, which result in pass breakups and, in some cases, interceptions. Games against Ohio State and Washington State provided the clearest examples of the problems that can arise from Darnold’s release.
I’ll keep this short. Both quarterbacks have arms that would be categorized in the upper half of the NFL. Not Matt Stafford level, but certainly not limiting in any way. As mentioned, Rosen makes firing a rocket across the field look effortless. Darnold doesn’t strain his body to throw the football, yet it’s almost surprising to see how fast the ball comes out of his hands on a routine basis.
Whether it be launching the ball 55 yards downfield — which is essentially the “maximum” you’ll see on a deep shot in the pros — to a long throw across the field from the far hash to the sideline, Rosen and Darnold unquestionably have strong arms, and neither is clearly more powerful than the other.
In the accuracy department, both have their fair share of misses each game, which, for some reason, get glossed over. In what is a microcosm of their overall skill sets, Rosen is more consistent with his accuracy on a pass-by-pass basis. Darnold has more misfires but is more capable of unbelievable, extraordinarily tight-window passes between defenders or downfield throws into a bucket.
Also, on the run Darnold’s accuracy doesn’t dip as much as Rosen’s, and I think that speaks to Darnold’s immense natural ability. Rosen is more by-the-book with his pocket drifting — which is good but not great right now — and in general, it leads to him extending a play within the pocket and finding open targets. There are more misses after he’s moved off his block.
Darnold’s an amazing improviser and has rare ability to locate receivers and hit them in the hands from seemingly impossible platforms and when he’s not perfectly balanced or when pressure is in his face. His “miss” is high. Rosen’s “miss” is behind his wideout.
Down the field, Rosen is a tick ahead of Darnold at this point. But like the rest of their ball-placement, Rosen is more steady. Darnold has more “wow” ability.
Advantage: Rosen, slightly
This, to me, simply comes from experience, and is a parallel to what’s written in the accuracy subheading. Rosen threw 1,169 passes in college. Darnold made 846 attempts at USC. While a 323-pass difference may not seem like much, it’s basically two-thirds of a season.
Rosen has difficulty identifying underneath defenders — check his last interception against Arizona — and occasionally a free safety can range from the middle of the field to get his hands on a Rosen pass. Overall though, the UCLA product understands where he needs to go with the football before and after the snap.
Darnold doesn’t seem to be confused by coverages often, but by way of his outstanding play-extending ability, he can force passes into coverage that’s too tight. However, he flashes defense-reading brilliance once in a while that leads to franchise-quarterback level anticipation throws.
This one’s close, and both quarterback prospects need to rein in some of their gun-slinger mentality at times, but Rosen is probably the better decision-maker at this point.
I don’t think Rosen nor Darnold get enough credit for their athletic talents, even when it’s simply eluding pressure behind the line of scrimmage. For being ” traditional pocket passers” both have enough mobility to make things happen when the blocking is leaky or when coverage holds for the first few seconds after the snap.
However, Darnold’s the more effective runner when scrambling, and he possesses more inherent athleticism. For example, Rosen might step up into the pocket, see a hole in the middle of the field, run and slide for a six-yard gain. On a similar play, Darnold would run for 15 yards and find the sideline.
When Darnold is picked in the 2018 draft, he’ll still be 20. Rosen turns 21 in February. Those facts would lend credence to a thought that Darnold has more upside in the NFL. Although I believe that’s the case, my line of thinking isn’t solely based on age. Rosen can certainly improve his accuracy, identification of zone defenders, and play under pressure. But in general, he’s close to where he’s going to be as a professional.
To me, the vast majority of development — if not all — must occur at the collegiate ranks for players. Typically, strengths stay strengths, and weaknesses stay weaknesses at the pro level. Darnold’s an intriguing case study though because he’s unprecedentedly young. If he starts Week 1 of the 2018 season, he’ll be three months removed from his 21st birthday, and he only played two seasons at USC.
His “highs” are almost unfathomable for a quarterback at his age with his relative lack of experience. Can NFL coaches guide his maturation? If so, he can develop into a perennially elite signal-caller at the pro level. Is he genuinely “ready” to be that type of quarterback as a rookie? Most likely not. Darnold’s talent level is on par with Jameis Winston and, in some areas, Andrew Luck.